French wine 'radicals' threaten more violence

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Languedoc roussillon Languedoc wine Languedoc-roussillon

Violence around southern France's vineyards could worsen next year
as more radical groups of winemakers emerge, angry at the region's
ongoing economic problems, one source has warned.

Militant vintner group, the Winemakers' Regional Action Committee (CRAV), which has attacked several government and wine buildings in Languedoc Roussillon over the last 18 months, is struggling to control more extreme members, a former group leader told​.

The problem poses a potentially serious threat to foreign wine transports and larger wine businesses in the area, both CRAV targets in the past.

"It is a dangerous situation at the moment. There is an emerging radicalism in the region's wine sector, which risks ending in trouble,"​ the source said, warning that CRAV leaders were losing influence.

One danger is that splinter groups will be less concerned about avoiding human injuries. CRAV claims it has always striven to prevent harm to people, although three workers were lightly injured as several of the group's masked members tore open wine vats at a Chais du Sud winery last year.

Hundreds of small wine businesses littered across Languedoc have continued to struggle against falling prices and mounting debts this year, brought on by France's wine market troubles.

The region increasingly embodies the different echelons of France's wine industry.

A mixture of new marketing initiatives, like the South of France brand, and emerging appellation contrôlée producers have seen some in the area do well.

But Languedoc, alongside La Mancha in southern Spain, is predicted by the European Commission to be worst hit by planned reforms to the EU wine sector - something winemakers in the region are only too aware of.

Around 50 people have been arrested and charged in Languedoc over wine-related violence during the last couple of years, since the current crisis began. It is understood, however, that CRAV alone held more than 800 members earlier this year.

"The situation globally is not good, but it is worse here because there is no financial future for some of these people. Nothing else will grow here,"​ said Jean Huillet, head of a local wine union. Wine is Languedoc Roussillon's third biggest export product.

Huillet and other local officials have attempted to turn winemakers away from violence. "There is less and less consumer support for violent action. They understand the situation is difficult, but they would not understand acts of violence against people with the risk of injury."

However, many in the region have made parallels between today's crisis and that of 1907, which also saw prices plummet, prompting thousands of winemakers to protest in the streets of Languedoc's major cities. Government troops were drafted in to quell the unrest.

Next year marks the centenary of that uprising, and also the final publication of EU proposals to rip up vines and drain Europe's 1.5bn-litre wine lake. Already, some Languedoc winemakers have erected signs declaring the leader from 1907, Marcellin Albert, is coming back.

"There are some similarities and some different things, but it is there in the subconscious,"​ said Jean Clavel, an appellation contrôlée wine producer who had relatives involved in the 1907 uprising.

For now, those attempting to market French wine abroad are holding their breath. "I hope we don't see more violence. It destroys our promotional efforts,"​ said Denis Verdier, head of France's Wine Co-operatives' Union.

French prime minister Dominique de Villepin last week announced the government would do more to support winemakers in financial difficulty.

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